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Chapter 1 
Physics and Reality 

Albert Einstein j 


In 1948, Lincoln Barnett [1909-1979, popular author] wrote of Einstein, 
among the 600 individuals enshrined in marble in "the walls of the River- 
side Church in New York . . . Einstein is the only one who shook the 
world within the memory of most living persons" (p. 11). Barnett 
continued, "Today, most newspaper readers know vaguely that Einstein had 
something to do with the atomic bomb; b^ond that his name is simply a 
synonym for the abstruse" (p. 12). - >, 

Albert Einstein [1879-1955] died seven years after Barnett's book 
appeared and now most of the persons who were alive when he "shook the 
world" have also departed. Yet Barnett's remark about the lack of public 
understanding of Einstein's work is probably as true today, four decades 
later, as it was in 1948. Few realize that Einstein's lucid writings ranged 
widely beyond physics and relativity. The selection excerpted here was first 
published in 1936 in the Journal of the Franklin Institute (vol. 221, no. 3) 
and later re-issued as part of the book Out of My Later Years in 1956 (pp. 
59-65, 96). 

Einstein did not, as is often incorrectly claimed, originate the now trite 
idea that "all things are relative", nor did he ever deny that experience 
bears some determinate relation to the world of physics. On the contrary, 
his views on the "setting [i.e. the fixing or determining, not the positing] of 
a 'real external world'" seemed almost to embrace naive realism. However, 
as his argument develops in the present and subsequent chapters, it is clear 
that Einstein's views were not naive and it will become apparent that they 
were precisely similar to those of Peirce and Dewey. 

1.1. General Consideration Concerning the Method of Science 

1.1.1. It has often been said, and certainly not without justification, 
that the man of science is a poor philosopher. Why then should it not be 
the right thing to let the philosopher do the philosophizing? Such might 
indeed be the right thing at a time when the physicist believes he has at 
his disposal a rigid system of fundamental concepts and fundamental laws 

4 Einstein 

which are so well established that waves of doubt cannot reach them; but 
it cannot be right at a time when the very foundations of physics itself 
have become problematic as they are now. At a time like the present, 
when experience forces us to seek a newer and more solid foundation, the 
physicist cannot simply surrender to the philosopher the critical 
contemplation of the theoretical foundations; for, he himself knows best, 
and feels more surely where the shoe pinches. In looking for a new 
foundation, he must try to make clear in his own mind just how far the 
concepts which he uses are justified, and are necessities. 

1.1.2. The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of 
everyday thinking. It is for this reason that the critical thinking of the 
physicist cannot possibly be restricted to the examination of the concepts 
of his own specific field. He cannot proceed without considering critically 
a much more difficult problem, the problem of analyzing the nature of 
everyday thinking, 

1.1.3. On the stage of our subconscious mind appear in colorful 
succession sense experiences, memory pictures of them, representations, 
and feelings. In contrast to psychology, physics treats directly only of 
sense experiences and of the "understanding" of their connection. But 
even the concept of the "real external world" of everyday thinking rests 
exclusively on sense impressions. 

1.1.4. Now we must first remark that the differentiation between 
sense impressions and representations is not possible; or, at least it is not 
possible with absolute certainty. With the discussion of this problem, 
which affects also the notion of reality, we will not concern ourselves but 
we shall take the existence of sense experiences as given, that is to say as 
psychic [mental] experiences of a special kind. 

1.1.5. I believe that the first step in the setting of a "real external 
world" is the formation of the concept of bodily objects and of bodily 
objects of various kinds. Out of the multitude of our sense experiences 
we take, mentally and arbitrarily, certain repeatedly occurring complexes 
of sense impression (partly in conjunction with sense impressions which 
are interpreted as signs for sense experiences of others), and we attribute 
to them a meaning~the meaning of the bodily object. Considered logically 
this concept is not identical with the totality of sense impression referred 
to; but is an arbitrary creation of the human (or animal) mind. On the 
other hand, the concept owes its meaning and its justification exclusively 
to the totality of the sense impressions which we associate with it. 

Physics and Reality 5 

1.1.6. The second step is to be found in the fact that, in our thinking 
(which determines our expectation), we attribute to this concept of the 
bodily object a significance, which is to a high degree independent of the 
sense impression which originally gives rise to it. This is what we mean 
when we attribute to the bodily object "a real existence". The justification 
of such a setting [determination] rests exclusively on the fact that, by 
means of such concepts and mental relations between them, we are able 
to orient ourselves in the labyrinth of sense impressions. These notions 
and relations, although free statements of our thoughts, appear to us as 
stronger and more unalterable than the individual sense experience itself, 
the character of which as anything other than the result of an illusion or 
hallucination is never completely guaranteed. On the other hand, these 
concepts and relations, and indeed the setting of real objects and, 
generally speaking, the existence of "the real world", have justification only 
insofar as they are connected with sense impressions between which they 
form a mental connection. 

1.1.7. The very fact that the totality of our sense experiences is such 
that by means of thinking (operations with concepts, and the creation and 
use of definite functional relations between them, and the coordination of 
sense experiences to these concepts) it can be put in order, this fact is 
one which leaves us in awe, but which we shall never understand. One 
may say "the eternal mystery of the world is comprehensibility". It is one 
of the great realizations of Immanuel Kant [1724-1804] that the setting 
[fixing or determining] of a real external world would be senseless without 
this comprehensibility. 

1.1.8. In speaking here of "comprehensibiUty", the expression is used 
in its most modest sense. It imphes: the production of some sort of order 
among sense impressions, this order being produced by the creation of 
general concepts, relations between these concepts, and by relations be- 
tween the concepts and sense experience, these relations being determined 
in any possible manner. It is in this sense that the world of our sense 
experiences is comprehensible. The fact that it is comprehensible is a 

1.1.9. In my opinion, nothing can be said concerning the manner in 
which the concepts are to be made and connected, and how we are to 
coordinate them to the experiences. In guiding us in the creation of such 
an order of sense experiences, success in the result is alone the 

6 Einstein 

determining factor.^ All that is necessary is the statement of a set of 
rules, since without such rules the acquisition of knowledge in the desired 
sense would be impossible. One may compare these rules with the rules 
of a game in which, while the rules themselves are arbitrary, it is their 
rigidity alone which makes the game possible. However, the fixation will 
never be final. It will have validity only for a special field of application 
(i.e. there are no final categories in the sense of Kant). 

1.1.10. The connection of the elementary concepts of everyday 
thinking with complexes of sense experiences can only be comprehended 
intuitively and is unadaptable to scientifically logical fixation. The totality 
of these connections-none of which is expressible in notional terms-is the 
only thing which differentiates the great building which is science from a 
logical but empty scheme of concepts. By means of these connections, the 
purely notional theorems of science become statements about complexes of 
sense experiences. 

1.1.11. We shall call "primary concepts" such concepts as are directly 
and intuitively connected with typical complexes of sense experiences. All 
other notions are--from the physical point of view-possessed of meaning, 
only insofar as they are connected, by theorems, with the primary 
notions. These theorems are partially definitions of the concepts (and of 
the statements derived logically from them) and partially theorems not 
derivable from the definitions, which express at least indirect relations 
between the "primary concepts", and in this way between sense 
experiences. Theorems of the latter kind are "statements about reality" or 
laws of nature, i.e. theorems which have to show their usefulness when 
apphed to sense experiences comprehended by primary concepts. The 
question as to which of the theorems sliall be considered as definitions 
and which as natural laws will depend largely upon the chosen 
representation. It really becomes absolutely necessary to make this 
differentiation only when one examines the degree to which the whole 
system of concepts considered is not empty from the physical point of 



Stratihcation of the Scientific System 

1.2.1. The aim of science is, on the one hand, a comprehension, as 
complete as possible, of the connection between the sense experiences in 

'[772 is sentence succinctly summarizes pragmatism as a philosophy, though it 
does not distinguish any of its varieties.] 

Physics and Reality 7 

their totality, and, on the other hand, the accomplishment of this aim by 
the use of a minimum of primary concepts and relations, (Seeking, as far 
as possible, logical unity in the world picture, i.e. paucity in logical ele- 

1.2.2. Science concerns the totality of the primary concepts, i.e. 
concepts directly connected with sense experiences, and theorems 
connecting them. In its first stage of development, science does not 
contain anything else. Our everyday thinking is satisfied on the whole 
with this level. Such a state of affairs cannot, however, satisfy a spirit 
which is really scientifically minded; because, the totality of concepts and 
relations obtained in this manner is utterly lacking in logical unity. In 
order to supplement this deficiency, one invents a system poorer in 
concepts and relations, a system retaining the primary concepts and 
relations of the "first layer' as logically derived concepts and relations. 
This new "secondary system" pays for its higher logical unity by having, as 
its own elementary concepts (concepts of the second layer), only those 
which are no longer directly connected with complexes of sense 
experiences. Further striving for logical unity brings us to a tertiary 
system, still poorer in concepts and relations, for the deduction of the 
concepts and relations of the secondary (and so indirectly of the primary) 
layer. Thus the story goes on until we have arrived at a system of the 
greatest conceivable unity, and of the greatest poverty of concepts of the 
logical foundations, which are still compatible with the observation made 
by our senses. We do not know whether or not this ambition will ever 
result in a definite system. If one is asked for his opinion, he is inclined 
to answer no. Wliile wrestling with the problems, however, one will 
never give up the hope that this greatest of all aims can really be 
attained to a very high degree. 

1.2.3. An adherent to the t heory of abstraction or induction might call 
our layers "degrees of abstraction"; but, I do not consider it justifiable to 
veil the logical independence of the concept from the sense experiences. 
The relation is not analogous to that of soup to beef but rather of ward- 
robe number to overcoat. 

1.2.4. The layers are furthermore not clearly separated. It is not 
even absolutely clear which concepts belong to the primary layer. As a 
matter of fact, we are dealing with freely formed concepts, which, with a 
certainty sufficient for practical use, are intuitively connected with 
complexes of sense experiences in such a manner that, in any given case 
of experience, there is no uncertainty as to the applicability or non- 
applicability of the statement. The essential thing is the aim to represent 



the multitude of concepts and theorems, close to experience, as theorems, 
logically deduced and belonging to a basis, as narrow as possible, of 
fundamental concepts and fundamental relations which themselves can be 
chosen freely (axioms). The liberty of choice, however, is of a special 
kind; it is not in any way similar to the liberty of a writer of fiction. 
Rather it is similar to that of a man engaged in solving a well designed 
word puzzle. He may, it is true, propose any word as the solution; but, 
there is only one word which really solves the puzzle in all its forms. It 
is an outcome of faith that nature--as she is perceptible to our five 
senses- takes the character of such a well formulated puzzle. The 
successes reaped up to now by science do, it is true, give a certain 
encouragement for this faith. . . . 

1.3. . . 

1.3.1. An important property of our sense experiences, and, more 
generally, of all our experience, is its time-like order. This kind of order 
leads to the mental conception of a subjective time, an ordinating scheme 
for our experience. The subjective time leads then through the concept of 
the bodily object and of space, to the concept of objective time . . . 

1.3.2. Ahead of the notion of objective time there is, however, the 
concept of space; and, ahead of the latter we find the concept of the 
bodily object. The latter is directly connected with complexes of sense 
experiences. It has been pointed out that one property which is 
characteristic of the notion "bodily object" is the property which provides 
that we coordinate to it an existence, independent of (subjective) time, 
and independent of the fact that it is perceived by our senses. We do this 
in spite of the fact that we perceive temporal alterations in it. Poincare 
[1854-1912] has justly emphasized the fact that we distinguish two kinds 
of alterations of the bodily object, "changes of state" and "changes of 
position". The latter he remarked, are alterations which we can reverse 
by arbitrary motions of our bodies, . . . 



-i*. 1.7.1 Physics constitutes a system of thought which is in a state of 
evolution, and whose basis cannot be obtained through distillation by any 
inductive method from the experiences lived through, but which can only 
be attained by free invention. The justification (truth content) of the 
system rests in the proof of usefulness of the resulting theorems on the 
basis of sense experiences, where the relations of the latter to the former 

Physics €Uid Reality 9 

can only be comprehended intuitively. Evolution is going on in the direc- 
tion of increasing simplicity of the logical basis. In order further to ap- 
proach this goal, we must make up our mind to accept the fact that the 
logical basis departs more and more from the facts of experience, and that 
the path of our thought from the fundamental basis to these resulting 
theorems, which correlate with sense experiences, become continually 
harder and longer. . . . 

Reflections on Key Points 

In "Physics and Reality" Einstein seeks a new theoretical foundation for 
physics and in so doing must tackle a problem more difficult than physics- 
the problem of understanding everyday thinking. The first step in under- 
standing the world of our e:i^erience, he suggests, is to form concepts of 
objects and classes of objects. However, the world (or the concept of it) is 
not merely an accumulation of sensory impressions, but "an arbitrary crea- 
tion of the human (or animal) mind" (1.1.5) --a point which M stresses 
again and again (see also 1.1.4, 1.1.10, 1.2.3, and 1.7.1). 

He claims the second step is to attribute a significance to bodily objects- 
"a real existence". In fact, he osseHs, this act of attributing reality to 
objects seems more certain and justifiable than the sensory experience of 
objects could ever be. However, the investment of concepts with meaning, 
including the concept "a real world", depends on linking them with 

Perhaps Einstein is quoting Immanuel Kant when he writes, "The 
eternal mystery of the world is it comprehensibility" (1.1. 7). Comprehension 
occurs, in Einstein's own words, "by the creation of general concepts, 
relations between these concepts, and by relations between the concepts and 
sense experience" and is a "miracle" (1.1.8). When he says, "guiding us in 
the creation of such an order of sense experiences, success in the result is 
alone the determining factor" (1.1.9) he takes a radical pragmatic stance. 

Also, he rejects the "final categories" of reason proposed by Kant, but 
admits that there must be some rules governing the acquisition of knowl- 
edge, or knowledge itself would be impossible. Some system of rules is 

'From here fonvard, references to segments of text are by paragraph 
number. The first integer in the sequence always corresponds to a chapter 
number; the second to a section, subsection, or paragraph number as appropriate. 



necessary in order to make possible the orderly arrangement of concepts f 
which are related to sensory impressions to form meaningful experience-all 
of which makes possible the edifice of science. This connection of abstract 
concepts to experience occurs, Einstein says, in layers, with primary 
concepts directly linked to sensory experience; secondary concepts related to 
the primary level; tertiary concepts related to the secondary level; and so on. 

However, he contends that this layering cannot be equated with "degrees 
of abstraction" whereby the higher levels are derived from lower ones and 
ultimately from sense experience (1.2.3). On the contrary, he claims that 
the relation of concepts to sense impressions cannot be reduced to a 
mechanical process of induction or abstraction. That is, the formation of 
concepts is from the very beginning logically independent of sensory ' 
experience, though ultimately the concepts themselves, or theorems based on ; 
them, must be linked to it unless they should be found utterly meaningless 
or empty. h 

Finally, another critical element of pragmatic thinking that forms a 
central part of Einstein's thinking is the temporal development of 
experience. He notes that in ordinary experience events seem to follow each > 
other in an unending succession (1.3.1 and 1.3.2). Furthermore, he 
mentions that the concepts which enable us to negotiate experience form the 
basis for our expectations about how things are going to work in our 
experience (1.1.6). Jf those expectations prove out to be correct, then the 
concepts are good ones, otherwise not (1.1.9). As will be seen subsequently, 
this is pragmatism in its classic form: Einstein writes, "The justification 
(truth content) of the system rests in the proof of usefulness of the resulting 
theorems on the basis of sense experiences, where the relations of the latter 
to the former can only be comprehended intuitively' (1,7.1). 

Physics and Reality H 

Discussion Questions 

L Why does Einstein reject the idea that successive layers of scientific 
concepts could be derived through abstraction from the previous level? Why 
must the higher levels be regarded as logically independent of lower ones? 

2. How is the scientist's task like that of someone trying to solve a "well 
designed puzzle"? Discuss the presuppositions this proposition carries with 

3. Consider the temporal development of sensory experiences. To what 
extent could this be a matter of culture rather than physics and 
physiology? (Recall too the arbitrariness of the "rules" of the concept-game 

as stressed by Einstein.) 

4. What relationship do you see between "risk" and "expectation", if the 
"result" is the final arbiter of success? 

5. How is "the notion of 'bodily object' . , . independent of (subjective) time, 
and independent of the fact that it is perceived by our senses" (3.2)? 

Chapter 7 

The Common Language of Science 

Albert Einstein 


In keeping with his observation that science and everyday thinking are 
based on the same sort of logic, in the title of this article first recorded for 
a radio talk in London in 1941 (reprinted here from Out of My Later 
Years, pp. 111-113), Einstein reminds us that, to some extent, the language 
of science is common to everyday thought (see also 3.14 for confirm.ation of 
this). Furthermore, he explains that language depends in a crucial way on 
its material grounding (to borrow a term from Dewey) in the facts of ex- 
perience as represented to us by our senses. 

He describes language development and the growth of scientific knowl- 
edge as a special sort of evolution: the fit of texts (conceptualizations) to 
facts is constantly refined in the direction of greater unity and scope while 
at the same time the texts themselves become less and less directly related 
to facts, and so, paradoxically, as knowledge increases it also becomes less 
certain. In terras of classic pragmatism, the thing to be noted most 
carefully is the way in which Einstein, who was certainly not trained as a 
linguist per se, deftly characterizes the process of pragmatic mapping and 
the scope of the enterprise of grammatical study. 

7.1. The first step towards language was to link acoustically or 
otherwise [i.e. audibly or in some other way] commutable [i.e. exchange- 
able] signs to sense-impressions. Most likely all sociable animals have 
arrived at this primitive kind of conimunication--at least to a certain 
degree. A higher development is reached when further signs are intro- 
duced and understood which establish relations between those other signs 
designating sense impression. At this stage it is already possible to report 
somewhat complex series of impressions; we can say that language has 
come to existence. If language is to lead at all to understanding, there 
must be rules concerning the relations between the signs on the one hand 
and on the other hand there must be a stable correspondence between 
signs and impressions. In their childhood individuals connected by the 
same language grasp these rules and relations mainly by intuition. 
When man becomes conscious of the rules concerning the relations 
between signs the so-called granunar of language is established. 




The Common Ixtnguage of Science 


7.2. In an early stage the words may correspond directly to impres- 
sions. At a later stage this direct connection is lost insofar as some words 
convey relations to perceptions only if used in connection with other 
words (for instance such words as: "is", "or", "thing"). Then word-groups 
rather than single words refer to perceptions. When language becomes 
thus partially independent from the background of impressions a greater 
inner coherence is gained. 

7.3. Only at this further development where frequent use is made of 
so-called abstract concepts, language becomes an instrument of reasoning 
in the true sense of the word. But it is also this development which 
turns language into a dangerous source of error and deception. Every- 
thing depends on the degree to which words and word-combinations cor- 
respond to the world of impression, 

7.4. What is it that brings about such an intimate connection between 
language and thinking? Is there no thinking without the use of language, 
namely in concepts and concept-combinations for which words need not 
necessarily come to mind? Has not everyone of us struggled for words 
although the connection between "things" was already clear? 

7.5. We might be incUned to attribute to the act of thinking complete 
independence from language if the individual formed or were able to form 
his concepts without the verbal guidance of his environment. Yet most 
likely the mental shape of an individual growing up under such conditions, 
would be very poor. Thus we may conclude that the mental development 
of the individual and his way of forming concepts depend to a high degree 
upon language.^ This makes us realize to what extent the same language 
means the same mentality. In this sense thinking and language are 
linked together. 

7.6. Wliat distinguishes the language of science from language as we 
ordinarily understand the word? How is it that scientific language is 
international? What science strives for is an utmost acuteness and clarity 
of concepts as regards their mutual relation and their correspondence to 
sensory data. As an illustration let us take the language of Euclidean 
geometry and algebra. They manipulate with a small number of 
independently introduced concepts, respectively [i.e. their respective] 
symbols, such as the integral number, the straight line, the point, as well 

\Fjinstem's statement here agrees with Piaget, Chapter 16 below whej-e the 
social aspect of intellectual development is considered in greater detail] 

as with signs which designate the fundamental operations, that is the 
connections between those fundamental concepts. This is the basis for 
the construction, [and] respectively [i.e. in their turn, the] definition of all 
other statements and concepts. The connection between concepts and 
statements on the one hand and the sensory data on the other hand is 
established through acts of counting and measuring whose performance is 
sufficiently well determined. 

7.7. The super-national character of scientific concepts and scientific 
language is due to the fact that they have been set up by the best brains 
of all countries and all times. In solitude and yet in cooperative effort as 
regards the final effect they created the spiritual tools for the technical 
revolutions which have transformed the Hfe of mankind in the last 
centuries. Their system of concepts have served as a guide in the 
bewildering chaos of perceptions so that we learned to grasp general 
truths from particular observations. 

7.8. What hopes and fears does the scientific method imply for 
mankind? I do not think that this is the right way to put the question. 
Whatever this tool in the hand of man will produce depends entirely on 
the nature of the goals alive in this mankind. Once these goals exist, the 
scientific method furnishes means to realize them. Yet it cannot furnish 
the very goals. The scientific method itself would not have led anywhere, 
it would not even have been born without a passionate striving for clear 

7.9. Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem--in my opinion-to 
characterize our age. If we desire sincerely and passionately the safety, 
the welfare and the free development of the talents of all men, we shall 
not be in want of the means to approach such a state. Even if only a 
small part of mankind strives for such goals, their superiority will prove 
itself in the long run. 

Reflections on Key Points 

Einstein suggests that communication is already possible to some degree 
as soon as signs are linked to sensory impressions. However, language as 
such, he asserts, depends on the development of textual elements which link 
the first sort of signs to each other so as to establish relations between 
them. Roughly speaking, linguists call these secondary signs syntactic 
elements, or functives, and they are not completely distinguishable from 
signs of the first type, referred to as lexical items or conteniives. 



"Rules concerning relations between signs" (7.1) referred to by Einstein 
clearly circumscribe the modern dom,ain of syntax though certainly leaning 
into semantics as well, while the "stable correspondence between signs and 
impressions" (7.1) clearly embraces the domains of semantics and prag- 
matics. Whereas the distinction between the latter domains, both concerned 
with meaning, is not clear in the minds of most modem writers, it can be 
sharpened by noting that semantics is concerned with general, abstract, 
even universal aspects of meaning while pragmatics is concerned with 
particular, contextual, and individual aspects of meaning in actual experi- 
ence. Or summing up the distinction with terms that are familiar to philo- 
sophy, semantics is concerned with intensional aspects of meaning while 
pragmatics is concerned with extensioncU aspects. 

When Einstein says that "when modem man becomes conscious of the 
rules concerning the relations between signs the so-called grammar of 
language is established" (7.1) he uses the term, "grammar" in the old-school 
sense. Modem linguists would generally refer to this sort of conscious 
knowledge of grammar under the term prescriptive grammar or usage 
grammar. However, the intuitive grasp of rules which is subconscious 
(7.1), as acquired in childhood, would be referred to nowadays by the single 
term grammar-the sort of knowledge that a person acquires naturally and 
without any specific instruction in rules of usage per se. Nevertheless, even 
without any adjustment, Einstein's paper is incredibly modern in its 
outlook. Moreover, it covers the critical question of pragmatic mapping-the 
linking of texts to facts (7.3)-which modem linguistics until lately has 
tended to ignore. 

Another remarkable insight of Einstein's brief treatise is the relationship 
he posits between "mental" development and language development. This is 
a topic we return to in Chapter 16 by Piaget. A critical role is apparently 
played by primary language development in the intellectual growth of 
children. (For further discussion see Carroll 1983 and Cummins 1983 in 
Issues in Language Testing ResearchJ 

Discussion Questions 

1. In what ways might the mental development of a person be limited if 
for whatever reasons that person never had the opportunity to acquire any 
natural language system? For example, consider a deaf child of hearing 
parents who are unable to learn sign or afford opportunity for the child to 
do so? 

2. Discuss an example from your own experience where the thought was 

The Common Language of Science 


clear before you were able to express it in words. Has the reverse ever 
happened to you, i.e. where the words preceded the full appreciation of the 

3. Why does Einstein assert so strongly that "everything depends on the 
degree to which words and word-combinations correspond to the world of 
impression" (7.3)1